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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FACES & VOICES:




My friend Vladimir thought he had the best of both worlds.


While studying for an MBA in America, he and a Moscow partner were growing an investment business in Russia.


Then came Aug. 17. When the Russian market went south, Vladimir headed east to see what he could salvage. But the investors' money was lost and gone, as was Vladimir's own considerable stake f formed with the proceeds from his earlier business in Moscow, a small tour company. From the tone of Vladimir's voice on the phone it seemed that either the relentless "keep smiling" optimism of America had already rubbed off on him, or he was displaying a sang-froid I never knew he had.


"Well, things didn't work out," he said matter-of-factly after describing a fruitless attempt to retrieve money from a Russian bank. "But I'm going to start over again." What separates Vladimir from his thirty-something peers in Russia, of course, is that he has the option of starting over in America, where people still believe in tomorrow.


When the crisis hit, the young Russians I know were at last beginning to believe in a future for themselves. They had shed the dependent mentality of their Soviet upbringing and were no longer afraid to take responsibility. Propelled by their own initiative, ability and hardwork, they were moving up career ladders and thinking of what the view might be from the top rung.


Their five-year plans included saving money in the bank, with the vision of a nice apartment someday, perhaps a car, a few extras for the only child and some sense of security in the years to come. But their faith in the future was shattered along with their faith in banks.


Suddenly, they felt they had been living under an illusion. The thieves in government and in the marketplace had come out the winners, by stealing as if there were no tomorrow.


Once climbing the ladder of success, unemployed young professionals now see themselves as struggling up the path of Sisyphus. "If I have to start over, I want to do it in a normal country," one marketing manager sighed. "I'd leave tomorrow if I could."


As for Vladimir, I don't think he'll be coming back except to visit relatives. He speaks of his adopted home, Lincoln, Nebraska, with a fondness worthy of the local Chamber of Commerce: "It's peaceful. It's safe. It's clean. And it's a great place to raise kids."


Basking in the glow of the Disney film about the tsar's daughter, Vladimir's 7-year-old, Anastasia, has become the belle of her school. "She used to be shy, but this has really brought her out," Vladimir said. "In Russia she would be just another Nastya."


Like most Russians who leave home, Vladimir misses the natural beauty of his native land. In the vast treeless Great Plains "there's no place to pick mushrooms. A cornfield is hardly a place to go for recreation." Yet by the end of our conversation Vladimir was already pining for those cornfields.


A glimmer of good fortune has already broken through the clouds on Vladimir's horizon. After his loss in the Russian free-fall, after his wife's hospitalization with a bleeding ulcer, after a wreck during a cross-country road trip, Vladimir's wife won several thousand dollars in a state lottery.


Helen Womack is on vacation.